You want to scale your business, but you can’t seem to find the time to make it happen.
Or maybe you are finding the time, but it’s at the expense of other things in your life.
Things like family, staying fit, hobbies, vacations, etc.
And you know that improved productivity could be the answer.
So you read post after post on the topic. Maybe you’ve even read a few books too.
You find dozens of time-saving tips and decide to try them out.
But a few days later, you are right back where you started.
Why Most Productivity Advice Doesn’t Work
If most productivity tips actually worked, there wouldn’t be a need for so many blogs and books on improving productivity. Here are the two reasons that most of these tips don’t work.
Reason #1: You don’t change overnight.
You don’t wake up one day and become a totally changed person. Total transformation takes time – a lot of time. It takes a lot of hard work too.
Common productivity wisdom and tips are simply too high-level to easily implement.
Without early successes, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and give up.
Reason #2: One size does NOT fit all.
Lots of productivity advice focuses on tips and tactics. You can absolutely gain a lot from implementing these tips. But, it can be hard to know what is going to work for you.
Without a personalized action plan, you have a laundry list of no-no’s that makes you feel like crap.
It’s more frustrating that useful. And it does anything but motivate you to change.
Without a strategy adapted to your own situation, it’s difficult to be truly effective.
How to Make Productivity Changes That Actually Work
Productivity 2.0: To find more time, look for fast tweaks that deliver a huge impact immediately. Don’t overhaul your entire system. Look for easy wins.
You need to know what changes will be worth your effort, so you don’t end up right back where you started. And you need a custom plan that’s going to make the most impact for you.
Through helping lots of service business to find more time, I have refined the 7 steps to create a quick plan for finding 5+ hours each week.
This is the exact process that consistently discovers 20 – 40 hours per month for my clients. And, this post is the first time I have ever shared the entire process.
The Huge Rewards of Increased Productivity
Before we get into the process itself, let’s look at the potential rewards.
What is this process worth to you?
A few days upfront, with a total 1-2 hours of investment, will conservatively buy you 260 hours or 1 ½ months of full work days (32 days). What are 260 of your hours worth?
How many clients could you get if you invested 20 hours more a month on your marketing? Winning back this time could be worth thousands of dollars to your business! And it might just be the one thing holding you back from taking your business to the next level.
How The 7 Step Productivity Process Works
As you go through these steps, bear in mind that there are endless changes you could make. Don’t get distracted: follow these steps to identify your high-impact easy wins.
Give the small changes a chance to stick. STOP when you reach 2 – 4 changes or 5 – 10 hours saved per week.
Overload yourself and you will fail. In fact, 1 change may be all you need to find 5 hours per week.
Now on to the 7 steps.
Step #1: 2 Days to Change Your Life
This is the most important step. This process won’t work well if you skip this step.
Just like with marketing, you can’t change what you don’t measure. The same is true with how you spend your time.
And the data comes from time tracking. Track your time in 15-minute increments in extreme detail for 2 days.
An example of extreme detail: “client work- project y: write an article, research, distracted by email, read blogs.”
2 days should be enough if you are very detailed, but 3 – 5 is even better. See the example above.
You won’t have much to go on unless you are very specific. This step alone will bring a whole new level of awareness.
You’ll need to know how you actually spend your time so you can…
Step #2: Find Out How Bad it Really Is
Now, scan through each day of your time-tracking log. What common trends do you notice?
You should see a few tasks or activities that either occur often or take up a good amount of time.
Common areas where this can occur include: email, article writing, admin, meetings, travel, client work, proposals, networking, etc.
Record 4 – 5 of your most common tasks and activities in their own column on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. You can create your own spreadsheet like the one on the right, or you can save time and download the template that my clients use.
Then go through each day individually. Record the minutes you spent on each particular task in its respective column.
Look at the totals.
Are you surprised to see where your time is actually going? A lot of people who go through this process find it’s a bit of a wake-up call.
Now that your time is sorted out into categories…
Step #3: Ditch the Baggage
Go back and look at the days you tracked your time. What ways are you spending your time that aren’t delivering a good return for you?
This is the easiest way to find more time.
Meetings tend to be a high impact area to reduce or eliminate. For example: if you on a web marketing firm, and meetings show up on your time-tracking chart as not delivering a good return for your time, you might restructure your meetings and win back over 5 hours per week.
This time will enable you to scale your business quickly, without cutting into the rest of your life. You create a process to decide who gets to use your time, and under what conditions.
By eliminating most in person meetings, you leave your home office less and save an enormous amount of travel and transition time.
Other places to look: low ROI networking meetups, unproductive social media, “pick-your-brain” sessions with non-qualified buyers, etc.
What can you easily eliminate? How much time will you save by eliminating these low-return activities? Highlight things you can drop, and tally up the total.
Next, you will want to look at high frequency tasks to see where you can…
Step #4: Choke Off the ADD
“But Mandi, I don’t have ADD!” Many of my clients say this when we get to this step. A quick look at your task switching might indicate otherwise.
Bouncing back and forth between tasks is energetically draining. Transition time is also a huge time suck! Save time by staying focused. Stop task switching and package tasks into time blocks.
This is a logical step, right?
Knowing what to do isn’t enough. Deeply ingrained habits can make change difficult. This is why so many of us check email sporadically, instead of in a few chunks each day.
To ease your way into your new task-batching system, consider first scheduling certain activities for specific days. For example: client work/calls on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; sales calls, admin and marketing on Tuesday & Thursday.
As an easily distracted person, this was an easy and liberating change for me to make. It helps me stay more focused, and get more accomplished in less time. It simplifies everything, leaving me extra hours each week to grow my business.
From there, prevent task switching throughout the day by batching your tasks.
For example: A marketing consultant who went through this process now saves 1.5 hours each week by writing in one weekly block, instead of 3 – 4 times per week. He eliminated the transition time. And his creative juices are already flowing, so it makes the task faster and easier. Eventually he will take it a step further and write monthly instead of weekly.
For now, weekly is an easy change to make. It’s given him 6 additional billable hours every month, which is valued at $1200/month! For him, batching his writing is an easy change that makes a huge impact.
What tasks in your business could you block together and schedule on certain days? Which tasks can you batch to accomplish all at once? How much time do you estimate you can save by cutting out the start and stop?
Good tasks to batch together include: checking and answering email, writing, client work, admin, meetings, planning, etc.
Every time you batch a task, add it to your time savings list. Keep tallying the total numbers of hours saved each week.
Now that you’ve batched your tasks, let’s see how you can…
Step #5: Break Through the Day to Day
This step is my favorite because it’s a fun and simple change. The idea is simple: put steps in place to streamline day to day processes.
There is software to streamline and automate repetitive tasks. Think Buffer, Hootsuite, Boomerang, IFTTT, etc.
But, streamlining your process goes beyond just software. It’s about engineering the steps to get to a certain outcome. It makes for quick, predictable outcomes every time.
A common challenge I see with my clients is a slow response time to project requests. For a lot of service businesses it can take days to answer an email – which is ridiculous! You lose potential revenue and drag out your sales cycle, both of which sabotage your growth.
With a repeatable process, you can respond to prospects in hours instead of days.
Rather than expending mental energy on a unique response every time, reply with a Gmail canned response. Customize it. Include a link to your online appointment scheduler. Click send.
This could save you:
- Time writing the email. Reduce a 5 – 12 minutes process down to 2-5 minutes. Savings = 3-7 minutes.
- Eliminate back and forth emails about appointment scheduling. Reduces 2 – 3 emails x 5 minutes each down to a single email. Savings = 10 – 15 minutes.
- Transition time, if any. [Savings = your estimate.]
Total time saved = 13 – 22 minutes per week, per project request.
If you receive 3 requests / week, you have saved 0.75 – 1.5 hours. At 5 requests per week, you’ve saved 1 – 2 hours. And at 10 requests per week, you have saved 2 – 4 hours.
Do you see how fast little tweaks can add up?
You can take it a step further and streamline the whole process for starting a new project. You’ll delight your customers (and be more profitable).
Other ideas for streamlining your processes: load and automate social media updates, use an appointment scheduler, implement email filters, plan autoresponders in advance, etc.
The next step after streamlining repetitive tasks is to…
Step #6: Find More Hours, Without Working More Hours
Scheduling the right tasks for the right time is like being gifted extra hours in the day. I find that I can literally get twice as much done during my peak time vs. non-peak time.
People can generally be grouped into morning people and evening people. Surprisingly, most of us are actually morning people. We tend to wake earlier and be more productive in the morning. Evening people start slower and can accomplish more at their peak in the evening.
When is your peak time?
For those of us who peak in the morning, alertness sharply declines in the afternoon between 12 – 4 pm and after a meal. Then it picks up in the late afternoon/early evening.
If you follow this common trend, you’ll want to schedule tasks that require the least brain power for non-peak times. Among other reasons, this is why checking your email first thing in the morning is productivity suicide.
Examples of common non-peak time activities: social media, admin, returning calls.
From what’s left in your columned list, pick out the most important tasks that require your full uninterrupted attention. Now schedule these activities in your peak time when you are sharpest and most alert.
Examples of common peak time activities: business development, planning, client problem solving, strategy, or anything you want to accomplish in much less time.
Don’t waste your precious ultra-focused time on menial tasks. Protect it and use it to drive your business forward.
Now that you have gone through the first 6 steps and have maximized what you personally can do, you might look at how…
Step #7: Playing Superman/woman is Holding You Back
Go back to your time-tracking list. Is there anything that you hate doing, are bad at, or is cheaper for someone else to do?
Hours (and energy) that you spend on low-level tasks are hours that you aren’t bringing in new revenue.
Consider outsourcing these tasks.
It’s less expensive than you think. You can find good people to offload tasks to on Odesk, Elance, Fiverr, and Microlance.
How much time would you save by hiring an editor to polish your earlier drafts? One of my clients saves 5 hours per week by hiring a fantastic copywriter. Since his rate is $200/hr and the copywriter’s is $30/hr, he is ahead by $3,400/month.
Ideas for outsourcing: website management, graphic design, data entry, editing, and 101 tasks to outsource.
Now that you’ve worked through all 7 steps…
How Will You Win Back 20+ Hours This Month?
How you invest your time directly impacts how successful you can be – in all areas of your life! Time is needed to grow your business, have enriching relationships, and make a bigger impact in the world.
You deserve a better business. Your family deserves seeing your nightly presence at the dinner table.
What steps in this process will buy you back 5 hours this week, and 1 ½ months of extra days this year? Find the top 2-4 things you can change. Make the time to create massive success in your business and in your life.